Encounters With Trauma & Disillusionment

trauma and disillusionment

“There’s truths you have to grow into.” ― H.G. Wells, Love and Mr. Lewisham

The experience of disillusionment involves a profound collapse of perceived truths, leading to a sense of empty futility and a disorienting sense of aimlessness. Universally life inevitably leads all of us to encounters with disillusionment.

Growth and basic human development necessitates metabolizing the failures of the world and of life. While being stripped of illusion is initially shattering, it is also ultimately liberating if painful truths can be assimilated and tolerated.

To come to terms with and appreciate what is, one must mourn and relinquish the illusory.

For survivors of systemic abuse and chronic betrayal, disillusionment is ubiquitous. The absence of safety, predictability, hope and meaning, fuel a nihilistic world-view.

Expanding the Narrative

Moving beyond victimization requires expanding a narrative of danger to a narrative inclusive of hope and promise.

Fundamental assumptions about life must be challenged in order for a life affirming transition to occur. Paradoxically, in order for this shift to successfully occur, full acceptance of one’s suffering must be assimilated.

Here, the crisis of disillusionment challenges the abuse survivor to existentially excavate her traumatic history and directly confront harsh reality, while simultaneously giving life to a perspective that fosters thriving.

Author Stanley Teitelbaum, wrote in “Illusion and Disillusion: Core Issues in Psychotherapy:”

“Throughout their lives, individuals maintain illusions about themselves and their world that sustain them and serve as organizing principles and the loss of these illusions in the harsh light of reality requires a psychological negotiation with the impact of disillusionment.”

While it is true that we need to emotionally buffer ourselves from intolerable truths by maintaining illusory principles, popular culture often succumbs to grandiose infantile scripts, designed to make life more bearable.

Precepts of unlimited free will, notions of all people are good, that life is fair, the world is safe and love conquers all infiltrate the collective psyche.

For those who have gone through the rite of passage galvanized by disillusionment, these anecdotes are patently absurd. Nevertheless, they are a concrete reminder of the defenses we employ to shield ourselves from difficult truths.


Agonizing life circumstances and devastating insights can ignite an existential crisis that catapults an individual into a dark abyss. From this place, we encounter the looming threat of cynicism, bitterness and paranoia. To cope the ego defense of splitting may kick in.

Splitting is an attempt to polarize ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so as to simplify the complexity of any given situation. However, what is disowned or split off cannot be incorporated into consciousness. As a result, psychological ruptures cannot be repaired.

“In Someone Like You,” Sarah Dessen wrote:

“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.”

Progressing through disillusionment requires a person to defy the impulse to succumb to willful ignorance and primitive ego defenses. It requires that individual to courageously reformulate and converge one’s idealism, desires and dreams with jarring reality.

Facing archetypal reality known as Brahman is a key concept in Upanishadic philosophy.

To embrace Brahman is to embrace Ultimate Reality and recognize dualities. From this position of truth, we transcend illusion and incorporate divine consciousness. We achieve acceptance and self-realization.

It is through disillusionment that we can fully drop into our humanity so that a new paradigm rooted in truth and reality can manifest.

Trauma victim photo available from Shutterstock

Encounters With Trauma & Disillusionment

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2016). Encounters With Trauma & Disillusionment. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Feb 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Feb 2016
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